Catalina Island News

UCLA Archeologists Soaring Ahead at Eagle's Nest

Catalina Island Conservancy

Who were the hunters that stayed at Eagle's Nest Lodge?  Where were they from? Who guided the hunters? What did they eat? How did they amuse themselves?  And what about the stage coach travelers in the 1890s that stopped to rest on their way to the Isthmus. What were their stories?

Little by little, Eagle's Nest Lodge is giving up its secrets.

As one of a number of studies in progress, this month, researchers from the Cotsen Institute of Archeology at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) have been scouring the grounds of the long-abandoned stage coach stop and hunter's lodge nestled in Middle Ranch.

Team leader Dr. Wendy Teeter of UCLA and Desiree Martinez, co-director from Harvard University, gave an overview of their work recently at the Nature Center at Avalon Canyon.

"We want to find out how Eagle's Nest was used from the 1890s to modern times," Teeter said. "We have opened up pits that will open windows into the past."

The archeological team comprised of 15 UCLA students from all across the United States that chose Catalina from the university's 12 field schools worldwide as the site of their five-week intensive training in archeology.

So far, several generations of glass and some kitchen tools have been uncovered, as well as examples of the familiar blue flagstone that was quarried near Little Harbor which formed a foot path from Eagle's Nest to the outhouse.

Because Eagle's Nest functioned as a hunting lodge, dozens of spent shotgun shells, casings, slugs and even a musket ball, have been sifted from the dirt surrounding the lodge. Maker's marks on the cartridges give researchers positive identification of how old they are and where they were manufactured.

Even trash pits on the property have given the researchers a better idea of what sort of activities when on there.

The prize find, so far, is a classic Victorian-era cameo featuring the carved face of a woman. It was discovered, surprisingly enough, in the dust on the Middle Ranch Road that runs in front of the lodge.

"Things tend to move around in the ground," Teeter said as an explanation of the rare find.

The storms of 1995 had washed out nearly all of the property, including the road, directly in front of Eagle's Nest. A porch that once lined the front of the building is no longer there. Teeter said that the archeologists are relying on photographs from the Catalina Island Museum and the Conservancy to identify where signage, lighting fixtures and boarded-up windows once existed.

One day, Eagle's Nest will be resurrected once again - this time as a historical interpretive center of the interior's history.

Restoring this historic Catalina landmark has been of interest to the Catalina Island Museum and the Conservancy for decades. Beginning in 2006, a concerted effort by the two organizations put the plan to rejuvenate the wooden structure on the front burner. A community meeting was called in November of that year to announce plans to forge ahead and to get input. 

After an introduction by Geoff and Alison Rusack, the architectural firm of Appleton & Associates, Inc., provided pro bono architectural consulting as did Pete Edwards, owner of Fine Line Construction in Avalon for his architectural expertise. Meetings with the two firms continue.

A community-produced "Hoe Down" event raised just more than $40,000 for restoration efforts at Eagle's Nest. These funds, in addition to other grant monies raised by the Conservancy, are being used for master plan development at the site, historical research, and architectural review and design.

The funds are also being used for environmental impact, grading, soil evaluation, civil engineering, structural engineering and soil percolation studies, and the archeological review - all required in order to submit a schematic design package to Los Angeles County for permitting. Efforts by the Conservancy to secure additional funds continue.

Built between 1886 and 1898 by the Banning brothers as a hunting lodge and stagecoach stop, Eagle's Nest took its name from two bald eagles that made their nest in a tree near the lodge, according to Jeannine Pederson, Curator of the Catalina Island Museum.

Construction materials were shipped from the mainland and carried by mule to the building site. The lodge was originally constructed as a two-room structure that included a stone fireplace. A kitchen and shed were later added.

Small cabins or cottages were also built near the lodge that provided overnight accommodations for visitors. In its heyday as a stagecoach stop between Avalon and the Isthmus, the horses were changed, and travelers could enjoy lunch.

Up until 1984, Island tour buses would stop at Eagle's Nest where visitors were served coffee and doughnuts.

-Bob Rhein